Yesterday, I saw the Richard Stallman personal ad on Craigslist for the first time. While the text is authentic, the free software activist almost certainly didn’t post it to Craigslist himself, since he doesn’t really use the web. (Instead, he reads web pages by sending an email to a daemon, which retrieves the URL with wget and emails it back to him. Yes, this is not a joke.)
Stallman’s ad immediately reminded me of Dave Winer and his very first post on The WELL, a personal ad from 1994 that shows another side of the tech pioneer.
From: Dave Winer (dwiner)
Date: 1994-08-17 17:52:00
Topic: Personal Ad experiences
Well, here goes -- my first message on The Well. I've just been lurking for the last few days, trying to figure out what's going on. It's pretty daunting, but maybe I'm getting the hang of it... You all seem like VERY nice people.
Photo by Kris Krüg on Flickr
Anyway, I wrote a personal ad last week, and sent it via email to a bunch of friends, most of them women, for their reaction. Here's the ad:
SWM 39, 6'2", athletic build, Bay Area, software entrepreneur turned massage therapist, gentle hands, romantic, emotionally developed, born-again hippie. Loves gardening, road trips, walking, skiing, writing. Looking for a great gal who's ready to create a safe space for love and lots and lots of play. Send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of my friends had a pretty animated response:
"You're going to find a nurse or a chiropractor. Why? The self-description sounds too needy, as if you're looking for succor. Anyway, i never describe you that way to anyone i know. Your description entirely omits your shining INTELLIGENCE -- you're a genius; you assimilate new ideas like most people consume their morning cereal. You see shapes when there are only nebulae. You're also kinetic, always soul-searching. grounded and yet ready to leap. You're body's pretty irrelevant, but obviously you want to be of athletic build (for what sport, exactly, would your body be considered athletic? no offense, but REALLY). As long as you've got some hair left and your sexual organs, your body's functioning, or do you really want to be a combination of Yogi Berra and Albert Einstein? -- Love, Sylvia"
Of course I liked Sylvia's version of the ad better. ;->
PS: I'm a great skier. Definitely athletic.
I finally understand why John Brockman dubbed him The Lover in Digerati! Even in the age of Netscape 1.0, Dave was using technology to connect with people. I emailed him to find out the story behind his WELL posting and follow up on his current relationship status. No response yet, but his Facebook profile says he’s still single and looking for a relationship.
I find the personal side of these technology giants to be fascinating. In just a few words, it shows a warmer, more human side to an often-controversial man. If you can think of any other examples, leave them in the comments!
February 7 Update: Surprisingly, the only people that seemed to care about Dave’s personal ad were Valleywag, Eye on Winer (the newest in a long line of Dave Winer watchdog sites), and Dave Winer himself. He commented on it a few times on his Twitter account, but that was about it. (Related, Eye on Winer posted this Knight-Ridder article from 1986 about American bachelors, with Dave Winer in the lead story.)
Many more people took note of the bit about Richard Stallman’s extremely unusual web browsing habits, culled from this post I dug up from a discussion list late last year. That link ended up on Zawodny’s blog and, later, the top of Reddit. I emailed RMS some questions, to ask him more about this, leading to the shortest interview ever:
I’m fascinated with a message I read about how you read the web with a wget demon. Could you elaborate on it?
It is a program that runs wget and mails me back the result.
Do you then convert the HTML to plain text and read it by email, or do you load the retrieved file in a browser? (If so, which browser?)
I can do either one.
Finally, is it free software, or something that you’d be willing to release?
I did not write it, but our sysadmins say it is kludgy.
Thanks for that elaborate explanation, Richard! As Philipp told me, “He answers like a programmer. If you stopped him on the street to ask, ‘Do you know the time?’ he’d say ‘Yes’ and leave.”